I believe most people are open to listening and learning from those who have already accomplished the goals they are striving for. That’s why one of my biggest goals for Rethink the Win is to have former athletes speak and connect with young athletes. I believe telling another person your story is the most impactful way for an athlete to know they do not travel alone in their own personal journey through sports.
Through the Gibson Foundation, we set up a day for former Viking greats Carl Lee and Henry Thomas to tell their story to the football team at St. Paul Como. The coaches and players gathered in the school auditorium and listened to two Vikings legends who have achieved their goals at the highest level.
Henry Thomas spoke about his struggle with a knee injury when he attended Louisiana State University and how he ended up flunking out early in his freshman year. Feeling depressed, he knew he had to re-dedicate himself to football and school. Henry spoke honestly about how difficult college academics are and how important it is to hit the books in high school. Henry also spoke about his amazing career playing 14 years in the league, and becoming one of the 50 greatest players to ever play for the Vikings. He also shared how he struggled with depression when he retired as he had really only identified himself as an athlete. The young athletes felt his honesty, asking questions and listening intently to his story.
Carl Lee brought a different kind of story that the young athletes could relate to. Carl was only 155 pounds when he graduated high school, so he didn’t have a lot of colleges coming after him like Henry did. Carl attended school and played football at Marshall University in West Virginia. He went there before the school was recognized for having Randy Moss, former Minnesota Viking and future Hall of Famer. Carl won eight games in his entire college career. Yet he was incredibly driven to make his dream of playing in the NFL come true. Carl was drafted in the 11th round of the NFL draft and ended up playing 12 years in the NFL. He told the football players at St. Paul Como that he struggled in school and that everyone in that room knew if they were struggling or not. He urged those struggling to get the help they need. It was clear his words resonated with the kids as he spoke from his heart and made no excuses for himself. Carl’s message, that you have to work harder than everyone around you, made it clear to the kids about how you find success on the field and in school. Carl, like Henry, is one the the 50 greatest Minnesota Vikings.
“The path to collegiate and or professional sports can be very challenging for young athletes and their parents who are sometimes unaware of the reality of this process. Former athletes understand just how unpredictable and difficult this journey can be. Because of that, we welcome this type of platform to assist with educating young athletes, parents and coaches.” – Carl Lee, former Minnesota Viking
As a former athlete, I kept thinking how much I would have valued meeting successful athletes who looked like me and who really wanted to share their stories. Henry and Carl were both outstanding football players, but I think their greatest work is happening now. They’re helping young athletes find their path to greatness, helping them understand the importance of school, and letting them know that sports end for all athletes at some point, and hopefully you leave the game a better person than when you arrived.
Athletes teaching athletes, it’s a powerful thing!